Apologies, this Labor Day post was sitting in my computer for a few days and should have  been released days ago.

I’ll start by reminding you that Labor Day in America was born from the Washington’s election year desire to make up for the blood of workers that was literally spilled during a federally-ordered strike-busting operation. Read Ezra Klein’s solid summary of the holiday’s birth, if you want more background.

The holiday begs the question: how is the labor movement doing today?

Piss-poor, if you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics‘ data on America’s union membership trends and labor force growth.

The number of union members has decreased to about 14.5 million:


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Union Members Summary – Jan 24, 2014



The percentage of workers who are union members has decreased to about 11%:


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Union Members Summary – Jan 24, 2014


But the total number of workers has increased. Um, somewhat:


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Union Members Summary – Jan 24, 2014

I only went as far back as 1983, which seems to be the only amount of data BLS appears to have made available to the general public. However, I understand that the union membership percentage was more than twice the current metric decades ago.

Does this mean workers are no longer interested in unions?

Or, are we facing a period of history where employers have more leverage over workers?

Some manufacturers’ ability to pay workers workers less than half of historical wages during the recent Great Recession comes to mind when I think about leverage.

In general, workers’ wages haven’t been keeping up with inflation for years. That’s not good news for obvious reasons.

You should also consider how states have established open shops – work environments that don’t require employees to pay union fees – a notion that will appear agreeable to cash-strapped workers, especially in an economic downturn, but will also suck the financial life from unions.

Which brings up a polemical question: is there a war against labor?

This may be the right moment to bring back my question about workers’ interest in unions, but placed differently: should unions reinvent themselves to remain relevant?


song currently stuck in my head: “un poquito mas” – captain planet feat. chico mann


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